2020 Delhi Riots Case: We Don’t Believe in Unnecessarily Keeping People Behind Bars, Says SC

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The apex court bench was hearing pleas challenging High Court's verdicts granting bail to activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — “We don’t believe in unnecessarily keeping people behind the bars,” a Supreme Court bench observed on Tuesday.

The bench, headed by Justice S.K. Kaul and comprising Justices A.S. Oka and J.B. Pardiwala, was hearing the pleas filed by the police challenging the Delhi High Court’s June 15, 2021 verdicts granting bail to activists Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita and Asif Iqbal Tanha in the case related to communal violence in Northeast Delhi during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The bench said spending hours hearing the bail petitions in the case was a “complete wastage” of time of the Delhi High Court.

Advocate Rajat Nair, appearing for police, requested the bench to post the petitions for hearing after two weeks, saying Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who is leading him, is arguing before a Constitution bench in a separate matter.

“We have a case that bail granted by the High Court should be cancelled,” he said.

The bench posted the pleas for hearing on January 31, a Press Trust of India (PTI) report said.

The apex court observed that in bail matters, the moment one goes into the merits of the case, the hearing gets prolonged.

One of the advocates, appearing for the accused, said in this matter, the police had argued on the merits before the High Court.

Nair said the police had only answered the question put by the High Court as to whether the act committed by the accused is an act of terror or not.

“You have spent hours in bail matters. It is a complete waste of time for the High Court. You want a full trial in bail matters? This I don’t understand,” Justice Kaul observed.

During the hearing in the matter on July 2021, the apex court had indicated its reluctance to consider the aspect of cancellation of bail granted to the three activists, who were booked under the provisions of the stringent anti-terror law — Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

It had termed as troubling that the bail petitions were being argued at length debating the provisions of the law.

The apex court had earlier expressed its displeasure over the High Court discussing the entire anti-terror law UAPA in a bail matter and made it clear that the judgements shall not be treated as a precedent and may not be relied upon by any of the parties in any of the proceedings.

The top court, which had agreed to hear the appeals filed by police and issued notices to the three, had refused to stay the High Court verdicts. It also clarified that the release of the three activists on bail was not being interfered with at this stage.

In the High Court, Mehta had argued that 53 people had died and over 700 were injured during the riots which took place at a time when the then US president and other dignitaries were in the national capital.

The court had said although the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ in section 15 of the UAPA is “wide and somewhat vague”, it must partake the essential character of terrorism and that the phrase ‘terrorist act’ cannot be permitted to be applied in a “cavalier manner” to criminal acts that squarely fall under the purview of the Indian Penal Code.

The Delhi Police claims that interpretation by the High Court will weaken the prosecution in terror cases.

The high court had granted them bail, saying in its anxiety to suppress dissent the State has blurred the line between the right to protest and terrorist activity, and if such a mindset gains traction, it would be a “sad day for democracy”.

Kalita, Narwal and Tanha are accused in four, three, and two cases related to the communal riots that broke out on February 24, 2020.

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